We were sitting on the verandah in frontof our cottage and sipping tea, when Iwas startled to see a large elephantpoke his head between the trees andstare directly at me. The massive animal stood less than20 feet away, with only a stone wall between us. It wasour first evening in Kenya and the most dramatic kickoffto any vacation that we've ever had. But that is howAfrica is—unexpected, fascinating, and unpredictable.
A Deluge of Experiences
We arrived in Nairobi in late June. The naturalistguide picked us up in a van. As we drove through theoutskirts of the city, we saw birds larger than any wehad ever seen, perched on trees lining both sides of thehighway, silhouetted against the skyscrapers in the distance.We knew right then that we were in an exoticland whose secrets we could never really grasp.
We drove north of Nairobi and headed toward theSamburu National Reserve. We passed below thesnowcapped peak of Mount Kenya and through teaand coffee plantations before the paved road ended,and we drove the last 2 hours over bumpy and dustyroads before reaching the gates of the park. An hourlater, unmarked trails brought us to the lodge situatedon the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River. This eco-friendlylodge has all modern amenities, though there are notelevisions or telephones in the rooms, and sumptuousbuffet-style meals are included in the price.
The park is semi-arid, bordered by rocky hills andhome to hundreds of species. We saw many ostriches,gerenuks, impalas, gazelles, zebras, and other animalsand birds before seeing the first of the Big Five, a hugewater buffalo. We started our morning safari early thenext day and saw a lioness, giraffe, cheetahs, and aleopard sleeping on the branch of a tree. We went ontwo safaris every day, one in the morning and the otherin the late afternoon—on every one we witnessedAfrica's awe-inspiring wildlife.
After 2 days in Samburu, we headed south to theAberdares National Park. After a hearty lunch we tooka bus, which wound up the mountain to The Ark, alodge next to a watering hole high up on the Aberdaresmountain range, surrounded by temperate rain forests.We were locked in for the night, but through windowsand open terraces we had a great view of the well-litwatering hole. Every time an animal came in for adrink, an alarm went off. We saw elephants, buffalos,and deer throughout the night.
Endless Parade of Wildlife
The next day we headed into the Great Rift Valleyand to the Lake Nakuru National Park, a relativelysmall area teeming with wildlife. Our lodge was on ahill overlooking the lake, which appears pink becauseof the thousands of flamingos that call it home. We sawrare black rhinos, white rhinos, zebras, giraffe, hippos,and a whole pride of lions.
The following day we drove south toward theMasai Mara. No words can describe the grandeur ofthe Mara, as it is popularly referred to. Our lodge, situatedon top of one of the few hillocks in an otherwiseflat landscape, provided unparalleled 360-degreeviews of the rolling vistas. Strategically placed telescopesprovided close-up views of the myriad wildlife.The famed annual wildebeest migration from theSerengeti to the Mara had just begun.
The 3 days that we spent there were unforgettable.On our safaris, we saw wildlife everywhere we looked.Standing on the seats of the van, with the roof extendedup, we saw crocodiles and hippos on opposite banksof the Mara River as thousands of wildebeest crossedover, followed by their predators—lions, cheetahs, andhyenas. One of the highlights was a hot air balloon rideover the Mara, where we watched the spectacularscenery and wildlife from high up.
Kenya happens to be one of the few places left inthe world that is dependent on tourism but not overwhelmedby it. The parks are well managed, with conservationbeing a top priority. There are few curioshops and no chain restaurants. The people are friendlyand live in relative harmony compared to the rest ofAfrica. The only downside was the terrible roads.
The trip ended after a week, but the memories willlinger on for a lifetime. The sheer exhilaration of seeingthe wonders of nature up close rather than on atelevision screen is indescribable. Even our video-game-wearysons, aged 17 and 12 years old who accompaniedus, were thrilled beyond belief. We now have anew appreciation of nature and the value of life thatwe never had before.
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